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October 1, 2008 11:23 AM

As Canada’s political leaders ready themselves for this week’s federal election debates, Canadians across the country will be doing some preparation of their own. Over the past three weeks, Canadians have raised key issues that have defined this election campaign. As the candidates debate in French on Wednesday and in English on Thursday, Canadians will be watching to see how each leader addresses their issues.

What Canadians should watch for:

On the economy:

Tax cuts and high defense spending contributed to the U.S. financial crisis. But Stephen Harper is pushing the same kind of policies. Canadians should listen for how much “Harpernomics” sound like “Bushonomics”.

On jobs:

In July, Canada suffered its largest job loss since the recession of 1991, with a drop of 55,000 jobs. Watch for a leader with a plan to keep jobs in Canada, and to encourage innovation and new job creation.

On First Peoples issues:

Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine this week called for the leaders to discuss Aboriginal issues during the debates. Given the Harper government’s failure to improve quality of life for First Peoples, watch for a leader who will honour the commitments of the Kelowna Accord, and provide real resources and funding to end poverty among Canada’s First Peoples.

On child care:

An end to Canada’s child care crisis will not come in the form of taxable monthly cheques. Watch for a leader who will make a commitment to building a pan-Canadian, accessible, affordable, not-for-profit child care system, and who will create desperately-needed new child care spaces.

On health care:

For-profit, private clinics are undermining our health care system. Watch for a leader who will work to protect and strengthen public medicare.

On trade:

Canadians have been left out of Stephen Harper’s trade deals. First, his government entered NAFTA-like trade negotiations with Colombia, despite the country’s terrible human rights violations. Now, Harper is talking about entering another deal with the European Union, which he refuses to discuss publicly. Watch for how aggressively Harper promotes free trade – and for a leader who holds him accountable for his dishonesty.

On the environment:

The Alberta tar sands is the fastest growing and single largest green house gas emitter in the country. Yet the Canadian economy has become far too dependent on the tar sands. Watch for a leader with a vision for a new energy economy, who is willing to cut pollution while creating newer, greener jobs.

On privatization:

Privatization of government work through contracting out and selling off federal properties is costing the public dearly. Watch for a leader who does not see public-private partnerships as the only means for improving Canada’s infrastructure.

On women’s issues:

Women in Canada are earning 70.5 cents to every dollar earned by men, and pay equity legislation has still not been adopted. Bill C-484, a private -member’s bill presented by Alberta MP Ken Epp and supported by Harper, would make it a crime to kill or injure an unborn fetus. The bill would re-open debate around the re-criminalization of abortion. Watch for a leader who promises to improve equality for women, not turn back the clocks on women’s rights.